Athens Is More Than Its Acropolis
Updated: Mar 31
Travelling to Greece this past summer was the realization of a long time dream for me - a country rich in history, ancient ruins and islands that are nothing short of paradise. A lot of people think that if you hit the highlights of Athens, you can spend just a day there and then head on over to the Greek Islands. While this is definitely one option, I want to share with you why I think spending just a brief day and night in Athens before moving on to blue waters and cocktails on the beach means you’re missing out on a lot of amazing things the country’s capital has to offer.
If you’re familiar with Greece at all, you likely know that the Acropolis (consisting of the Old Temple of Athena, Parthenon, Theatre of Dionysus and other ancient ruins) overlooks the entire city of Athens from the top of the rock. And while it’s not the only reason to visit Athens you can’t miss it once you’re there. It’s a good idea to begin the trek to the top early in the morning so you’ll make it up to the Parthenon before the scorching heat of mid day sets in. Once you’ve taken in the amazing view of the city from the top and snapped your photos with the ancient structures, it’s worth your time to visit the Acropolis Museum. There’s a great cafe where you can stop for lunch to refuel and then learn more in depth about the sights you just saw through their many exhibits.
Once you’ve finished with the Acropolis, don’t head to the ferry port just yet. Monastiraki Flea Market is an experience you need to have when you come to Athens. The old cobbled streets are lined with shops, vendors and restaurants. The flea market has everything from linen, jewelry, clothes, souvenirs, spices, coffee and so much more. You can haggle for the best price, and even if you’re travelling on a tight budget, everything in Greece is very affordable. Everyone wants to sell you on their products or their menu, and it can seem a little overwhelming, but the Greek people are very friendly. In my own experience, upon rejecting a man trying to get us to eat at his restaurant because it wasn’t the kind of meal we were looking for, he led us to a much cheaper souvlaki joint that turned out to be one of the best dining experiences of our whole trip.
Plaka is one of the oldest and most picturesque neighbourhoods in the city and your visit here wouldn’t be complete without spending an evening walking around and dining at one of their many restaurants. It’s easy to get to from anywhere in the downtown core and the ambience here will be exactly what you pictured for a Greek adventure. Live music, amazing seafood platters, and the many cats of Athens waiting in the wings for your leftovers.
The Ancient Agora and Roman Agora are two more historical sites you won’t want to miss while you’re here, which is why I truly believe spending just one day in Athens isn’t enough. To see the Acropolis and the Agoras in one day, you’ll be moving at a good clip, so consider breaking them into two half days instead for a slower paced experience. These ruins are just as impressive as the Acropolis and a little more secluded. You feel further away from the city while exploring here because of the trees and forests that separate you from city streets, and the wildlife around the Agoras (cats and turtles) only amplifies this.
Cinethision is the perfect night time activity in Athens. Ranked among the world’s ten best outdoor cinemas, Cinethision was one of my favourite experiences in all of Greece. There’s usually two screenings each night, and you can buy food and drinks inside as well. As the sky darkens you can see the Acropolis, lit up above the city, in the distance.
Vouliagmeni Lake is a lesser known attraction near the city of Athens and you should allow yourself a full day if you wish
to visit. It requires about an hour on public transit to reach, but is a fairly simple trip (Metro from Syntagma station to Elliniko and there are several bus options from here - I took the 96). Vouliagmeni Lake is famous for being part freshwater lake and part ocean run off, a natural home to Garra Rufa (or Doctor fish) which nibble at the dead skin on your body to exfoliate you. The waters of the lake are also rich with minerals, and it’s recognized by the National Greek Tourist Association. Entry is around 15 Euro per person (cheaper for students), and gives you access to the lake, loungers and a locker to store your valuables. There’s also a lakeside restaurant so you can make a day of it. This spa is a great way to unwind after a few busy days of site seeing in the main city. If you continue south from Vouliagmeni Lake you’ll reach the Temple of Poseidon on the coast. It’s worth considering adding it to this day trip, and maybe time your arrival at sunset for a spectacular view of the ancient temple and the ocean.
I want to give a fair review, and say that Athens may not be a city everyone loves. There is poverty and pickpocketing; especially in the markets it's important to keep an eye on your purse or wallet. You may have the misfortune to be accosted on a remote side street while someone tries to get you to pay for a bracelet they’ve somehow already slipped onto your wrist (this did happen to me and to some friends who visited on a separate occasion) BUT every large city has its downsides. I would say that the good experiences I had in Athens greatly outweigh the negatives.
There’s no way to experience all of the attractions Athens has to offer you in one day. If you can stretch your stay to three or four days, you’ll certainly never be bored. The city is walkable but vast, and even if you book your days full of sight seeing there will still be more you wish you’d seen when it’s time to leave. But if you can bring yourself to wait a few more days before heading to the islands, you might just fall in love with the mainland.